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Petone's First 100 Years (1940)


General Motors New Zealand Limited

Pioneers of the Motor Industry in New Zealand

At the end of the year 1925, the acres where the factory of General Motors, New Zealand, Ltd. now stands, was a plot of untidy neglected ground in the heart of what was later to become a growing industrial centre; no services were there; no railway, no heat, no light, no water, no drainage —nor was there even a road to connect it to the main traffic arteries.
Six months later on this site stood a modern motor-car assembly plant ready to start operations. It was General Motors' recognition of the potential market of the Dominion, now one of the world's most highly motorised countries. The building of General Motors' new factory might, in fact, be said to have pioneered the industrial development of the Hutt Valley, which at that time had a population of about 9,000, but now has over 34,000 residents. This was one of the most remarkable building operations ever performed in New Zealand. The contract for two buildings with a total area of 132,440 square feet was signed on January 28th, 1926. In sixteen actual working days from that time, the ground was practically prepared for the laying of the concrete foundations and, on August 31st, 1926, the doors of the new factory were officially opened. An interesting fact is that, although the anchor bolts holding the columns to the foundations were solidly embedded in the concrete before the steel work arrived on the job, there was less than a quarter of an inch of adjustment to be made in the length of the building—380 feet.
Only eight months from the commencement of operations saw the 1,000th Chevrolet produced in the Petone plant. By 1929, 12,000 cars and trucks had been driven off this same assembly line.
The years that have followed in the history of General Motors, New Zealand, Ltd., are a record of achievement—achievement in applying overseas production methods to local conditions; and achievement not only in setting new records for this type of manufacture, but for actually inaugurating it. General Motors were thus the pioneers of the New Zealand assembly of motor-cars and trucks.
In the General Motors factory as we see it to-day, the vastness of the equipment, buildings and machinery and of the army of men who are required for the one purpose of building General Motors' vehicles at Petone, is not easy to visualize. The Plant covers more than 6 acres of floor-space and stands on 12 1/4 acres of ground. Side walls, almost wholly
of glass, bring the work of every man within a few feet of daylight. This ensures an abundance of natural light in every corner of the Plant. Beneath the same roof, and occupying a huge area, is to be seen the Frigidaire division—an essential and important part of General Motors, New Zealand, Ltd. Here in the heart of Petone, the world famous Frigidaire commercial and household refrigeration cabinets are built by craftsmen who have their homes in Petone.
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1926—General Motors' Factory Under Construction

The contract for the erection of this factory, together with warehouse and, office was signed on Thursday, January 28th, 1926. On Monday, February 1st, 1026, the surveyors were on the job staking out the first foundations. On August, 31st 1926, Mr D. F. Ladin, the first managing director, opened the doors of the new factory with a gold key and declared the plant officially opened. On March 17th, 1927, the 1,000th Chevrolet produced in the Petone plant came off the assembly line—1,000 cars and trucks in just over 8 months. Buick and Oldsmobile cars and the newly introduced Pontiac were added to the assembly factory operations.
Whole train-loads of incoming freight are unloaded at the company's own siding and delivered by electric conveyors to the point at which they are required. Two main assembly lines and numerous subsidiary tracks guide each car through the three thousand-odd operations involved in its construction. The car—assembled, inspected, checked, tested and passed— is delivered to the ship or the rail, and from there it is transported to its ultimate destination, which may be anywhere from Kaitaia to the Bluff. To provide recreation for General Motors' 700 New Zealand employees, a cricket ground and sports field has been laid out to the west of the factory. This is separated from the factory by a two-acre plot of ornamental garden, containing an artificial lake and an illuminated fountain which takes 20 minutes to complete the whole cycle of changing colours.
What the future holds in store is more than any of us can say, but the General Motors Corporation maintains its pledge to the public to continue the policy which has resulted in such sweeping advances not only in the
world of transport but in other fields as well—Refrigeration, Air- conditioning, and Aviation. General Motors' Research Laboratories and its Proving Ground, its subsidiary companies and various subordinate groups will continue to work in the interests of the motorists of to-morrow, knowing full well, that in spite of much achieved, much yet remains to be done.
There is no country in the world where a motor car is more of a necessity than New Zealand; there is no country in the world to which the motor car has brought more benefits. The back-block farmers are no longer isolated from civilisation. The motor vehicle provides economical contact with busy centres; it conveys stores to his homestead; it carries his children to school; it delivers his produce to the factory or the market. In a thousand and one ways the motor vehicle has contributed to the efficiency and contentedness of the man on the land. A sign of the times is the growth of secondary industries in New Zealand, and all industry —foundries, freezing works, timber mills, flax mills, tobacco factories— everything—is dependent upon transport. Raw material must reach the factory; workmen must be conveyed to and fro; the finished product must be delivered through its various channels until it ultimately reaches the consumer. All these processes would be paralysed without swift and efficient transport. To-day the motor industry itself ranks as the second largest of all New Zealand's industries, and General Motors have contributed much towards the wealth and prosperity, not only of Petone but also of the Dominion as a whole.
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1939—N.Z.'s Centennial Year

In 1936—General Motors' 10th anniversary. 37,575 vehicles had been produced. To-day, this figure stands at over 65,000—and production is still going on. Visitors who knew General Motors' factory in he past will see vast changes to-day. Recently, General Motors expanded their factory and this huge organisation now occupies 12 1/4 acres of ground.

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